View all Personal Finance articles

Are Small Differences Between Credit Scores Normal?

FICO Scores use complex algorithms to determine a score, and there are many reasons why you may see small (and sometimes large) differences in your scores.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

If you regularly check your credit scores you might check them from different sources at the same time and see you have different scores. You also might notice that scores fluctuate from one month to the next—or even from one day to the next.

It's not a mistake. In fact, once you understand how FICO® Scores are calculated, you may realize that it's common (and even expected) to have different FICO Scores.

What Determines a FICO Score?

FICO® Scores depend entirely on the information in one of your credit reports from a major credit bureau—Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. The score is based on the information contained in one of your credit reports at the specific moment the score is requested. If the underlying data has changed by the next time the score is requested, the score may change as well.

Make Sure You're Making an Apples-to-Apples Comparison

One reason you may be seeing different outcomes is that you're actually checking different credit scores, or credit scores based on different underlying data. There are a couple of common ways this can happen—especially if you're checking your credit from different sources, such as a bank, credit card issuer and free credit monitoring services:

  • The FICO® Scores are based on different credit reports. Your credit reports likely aren't identical, which can lead to differences in the resulting scores. Additionally, the FICO scoring systems at each bureau are slightly different.
  • You're receiving different versions of the FICO Score. Even if the same credit report is being scored, the results could be different depending on the FICO Score version.
  • It's not a FICO Score. Are you sure you got a FICO Score and not a different credit score brand? If the score you get isn't a FICO Score, the other scoring models may use a different approach that results in different scores.
  • The credit reports were pulled at different times. Credit monitoring services might not request a brand-new credit report each time you check your credit. As a result, the services may be showing you FICO Scores based on different credit reports from different points in time.

To help you know what credit scores you're looking at, be sure to understand which credit bureau it is being sourced from, the date on which it was generated, the score brand and the version of the score.

What Can Lead to Changes in a FICO® Score Over Time?

If you're monitoring the same FICO® Score version based on credit reports from the same bureau, several items could lead to a small change:

  • Your credit report is aging over time and that can impact your length of credit history which may cause the score to change.
  • With passage of time, certain items can fall off the credit report, such as late payments getting purged at the 7-year mark or inquiries aging past the 1-year mark—which may cause a change in score.
  • Newly reported balances can impact characteristics that evaluate your outstanding balances and use of your available credit—thus potentially impacting the score.
  • Any new credit seeking activity (inquiries and newly opened accounts) can also result in a score change.
  • Closing or paying off an account may impact the score.

FICO® Scores use complex algorithms to score credit reports, which can often lead to minor changes over time and may even lead to unexpected changes. Sometimes you may be able to identify a single event that's the primary reason for a change — such as a late payment hurting your credit. But, even then, the extent of the impact will depend on your entire credit file.

Check Multiple FICO® Scores at Once

Knowing your FICO® Scores is a good way to understand where you stand when you want to apply for credit. While many services let you monitor one or two of your scores at a time, you might not know exactly which credit report or score a creditor will use.

The myFICO plans give you up to 28 FICO Scores at once. And you can choose to check your scores based on a single credit report, like Experian, or get your FICO® Scores based on credit reports from all three bureaus.

LaToya Irby

LaToya Irby is a financial writer with over 14 years of experience. She's been quoted and published as a credit expert in several major publications including USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, TheBalance.com, and The Chicago Tribune.